Arjay Miller Pushed Stanford MBA Students to Help Save the World
By James R. Hagerty
As president of Ford Motor Co. in the 1960s, Arjay Miller concluded that business leaders could no longer consider pollution, urban riots and other social issues as someone else's problem. He took that agenda to Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, where he served as dean in the 1970s. He put an emphasis on teaching corporate social responsibility and skills applicable to both business and public policy.
Raised on a Nebraska farm with no indoor plumbing, Mr. Miller was an economist and one of the 10 "whiz kids" hired as executives by Ford in 1946 after serving together in a statistical branch of the Army Air Forces.
A director of companies including Wells Fargo & Co., Levi Strauss & Co. and Washington Post Co., he was exceptionally well-connected. Henry Ford II in 1986 stipulated that, if he was ever kidnapped, Mr. Miller should be in charge of negotiating with his captors. Warren Buffett played his ukulele at Mr. Miller's 100th birthday party.
Mr. Miller died Nov. 3 in Woodside, Calif. He was 101.
Ralph Nader's crusade for safer cars and the Detroit riots of 1967 jolted Mr. Miller into rethinking his approach to business. He saw Mr. Nader's indictment of flimsy automobiles as a justified slap in the industry's face. Auto executives, summoned to Congress to testify about deathtrap cars, were unprepared, he believed, and that led to regulations shaped by government officials with little understanding of the industry.
The riots galvanized business leaders in Detroit, where Mr. Miller became chairman of an economic development committee. "Our primary task was to get jobs for the unemployed in the city," he said in an oral history recorded at Stanford in 2003. "We failed miserably."
At Stanford, he created a public management program aimed at encouraging more students to consider working in government or at nonprofits. Another aim was to teach business students to deal effectively with public officials.
Rawley John Miller Jr., the youngest of eight siblings, was born March 4, 1916, in Shelby, Neb. A sister dubbed him Arjay. Harvesting corn, milking cows and other chores inspired him to seek an easier way of life. Teaching struck him as his best bet.